Friday, April 6, 2012

Raw Fresh Things: The Fine Art of Falling Apart

Act 1:

I've been lost in that part of the labyrinth where you can’t see ahead or behind and you’re too short to climb over the hedge-- that locked up bit that causes young parents to call the police and David Bowie to take acting jobs with muppets. Floating through a murky haze as if I've taken a red-eye from Istanbul, jetlagged, but from life, there’s something more going on than I can find in the mirror. I’ve been tender and sad and unsure, like there’s a little girl inside that’s been shattered over something-- a bad grade or a bad boy or both-- and the big girl that's in there too must care for her but she feels like putting on black eyeliner and black boots and stomping around with her friends before taking the time to apply the band aids and find the tissues to wipe up the tears. I can’t tell if I’m making up the story or merely recording it, but I know it’s a footnote to the void, the luggage compartment of the hole, that space that gets emptier and hungrier than a vacuum cleaner refill bag if I’m not vigilant, a vortex in me that wants more, more of anything, even a bad thing, especially a bad thing-- if it’s familiar. I think being tired is the red carpet for tears and so today I’ve let them roll.

Act 2:

Fine, tears, deliver your message. I’ll welcome all of you now, even though if life were a menu I would have ordered blissfully happy for every course. Even though blissfully happy is actually a bit watered down—jacked up ecstatic is more like it. In the past and even the present I haven’t been above using whatever crutch I could get my hands on to get me there. But these tears, this welling up of something can’t be denied just because I have a longing for an imaginary crack house in heaven. They’re here for some reason and what I hear them saying  is I have more to give than I’m giving. I’ve been holding back and the result is a log jam that can’t help but spill over. I’ve been holding back because over exposure isn’t cool and raw fresh things are easy targets for skewers and sometimes I want to put a heavy blanket of books and HBO specials and iPhone apps around this needy pulsating thing that gets me up in the morning and moves me around during the day. When I don’t write with that blanket stripped away and my heart completely naked it’s like having the harvest from my own garden rot in the fridge while I eat CheezDoodles and HoHos and Hot Pockets from the microwave. I need to call myself back, all of me, so I can be funneled into the important pieces of my life, this work, right here.

Act 3:

I want to build a closer, steadier, more reliable relationship with my art. I want to be close like husband and wife or mother and son or two best friends who finally shacked up together, not like those people you duck into another aisle to avoid at the market because you missed the real appointment with them long ago. I want a rich, deep, daily relationship that self propels like a La-Z-Susan circling back around again and again, serving me as I serve it, my writing and me, eating breakfast together at the table. I want to take new risks regularly, going beyond the flimsy invisible walls I treat like steel. I want my art and me to know each other like bread and butter, like skin and bone, not third cousins twice removed at the family reunion. I want my art and me to be buddy-buddy, not just pen pals where one person suddenly stops writing back, but blood brothers, blood sisters, who can’t get to the door fast enough to say everything, that did or didn’t happen, was or wasn’t there. I want my art and me to go for fancy restaurant dinners but to come home together and lock the door from the same side, no one shut out, no one alone. I want art and me to drink milk straight from the jug, one after the other without apologizing for being unseemly, without embarrassment, without threatening to leave to find more distant, polite and acceptable company. Because this is the only way out of the labyrinth I know. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Born Here, Been There: American, East Coast & Southern

Over the last several years the same Feng Shui consultant has told me twice, in no uncertain terms, that there is no hope for our house that can be bought by charms or rearranging of pillow placements and that the best thing for us to do is to move, preferably yesterday. Both times I’ve agreed with her. There’s baggage here, ghosts, my parent’s past and my own, not to mention structural and aesthetic repairs that seem to be well beyond our scope. But, much as my mind is made up to get out of dodge for a full 24 hours after she leaves, we stay. 

It’s as if she’s told me to step out of the quicksand. She’s right; I just can’t seem to do it.

Mulling over my plight with a friend I heard myself say, “I’m just not like all these white Westend women!” Maybe because she’s from California the truth was more obvious to her. “But you ARE a white Westend woman!” she said. It was an epiphany. Not having an excess of national, regional, cultural, house or any other kind of pride, my geographic identity is something I’ve wrestled with most of my life.  

At the predominantly African American elementary school I attended in Church Hill, there was little I could do to hide the fact that I was white and Jewish—especially after my mother’s classroom Hanukah presentation. But after being transferred, I didn’t feel like I fit in any better at the almost entirely white conservative school in my own neighborhood where I was the only kid who didn’t vote for Ronald Reagan in our class mock election.

At school in New York, one had to dig deep to unearth my southern roots. Southerners were backwards, redneck racists who spent all their time reenacting Civil War battles-- if they weren’t too busy eating grits. I was busy eating grits, but if I’d been in the Civil War, I would have gone Union. Likewise on the dude ranch in Colorado, I was loath to admit my East Coast origins. Easterners were neurotic academic snobs who didn’t know how to brew a decent cup of cowboy coffee or saddle a horse. I had to learn both the hard way. Living in Italy, I did my best to disguise the fact that I was American. Americans wore fluorescent visors, ugly fanny packs and brayed like donkeys in the museums and churches meant to honor the dead. My ruse was successful until I opened my mouth, effectively butchering the native tongue of Dante and Boccaccio in a single espresso order. 

But I have a feeling if I’d moved to Mars I would also have tried to refute my humanity.

As hard as I tried to leave my American, East Coast, Southern roots behind, they pulled me back, not only to Richmond, but to the house I grew up in. Maybe my mother buried my placenta in the backyard. Maybe the souls of the cats we’ve put to rest out by the fence line steal our breath while we sleep. Maybe I accidentally married my house when I married my husband. Maybe I’m trying to straighten out my childhood by raising my own child in my old bedroom.

Whatever the reason, I’ve not only ceased trying to divorce myself from my hometown, I’ve fallen in love with it, too. Just as one can’t get to know everything about another person in a single lifetime, the city where I’m from will always offer more to discover. Even though a trip to the grocery store can be like attending my own high school reunion, Richmond has more interesting neighborhoods and quirky personalities than a dysfunctional family has alcoholic uncles. My definition of love has always been wide, but coming back to stay has allowed it to grow deep. The castles I build in the sky might spring from quicksand, but at least I’m finally proud to say they’re mine.